Controversial Hindu Wins Resounding Re-election in Indian State



In an election with ramifications beyond the borders of the Indian state of Gujarat, the conservative Hindu nationalist party has won re-election with an absolute majority. The results are giving rise to speculation that the state's controversial chief minister is a potential prime minister, if the opposition regains power on the national stage. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

The bitter campaign between the Bharatiya Janata Party, known as the BJP, and the Congress Party in Gujarat focused on one candidate - the prosperous state's chief minister. The government of Narendra Modi was referred to as "merchants of death" by Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi. Under Modi's watch in 2002, anti-Muslim riots in the state killed more than 1,000 people.

Modi's supporters pointed to their leader's record of economic development during his two terms and his apparent incorruptibility despite poor governance and rampant corruption in much of India. Modi criticized the Congress Party, which is at the helm of the national government, as being soft on terrorism.

In brief remarks to reporters Sunday, Modi predicted the landmark results will transform India's political trend. He thanked voters for rejecting what he termed the negative propaganda spread by his opponents.

Two stages of voting in the heavily industrialized western Indian state were held on December 11 and 16. Results were announced Sunday, showing the BJP capturing almost twice as many seats as the Congress Party in the state assembly.

The opposition's victory in Gujarat likely extinguishes any possibility of the governing coalition calling for national elections ahead of the next scheduled round in 2009.

Despite his popularity in Gujarat, Modi's refusal to apologize for the 2002 riots taints his image outside the state. India's supreme court has labeled him a "modern-day Nero" - a reference to the legend of the tyrannical Roman emperor fiddling while Rome burned. The United States has denied Modi entry into the country accusing him of "severe violations of religious freedom."

Indian media reported Sunday that the already top-level security around Modi has been increased after intelligence officials warned he may be targeted by suicide bombers of the Pakistan-based Lakshar-e-Toiba, which has called for restoration of Islamic rule over all of India.

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